HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – An Alabama police officer went on trial Tuesday on a federal charge of using excessive force against an Indian man who was thrown down and partially paralyzed during a confrontation in a suburban neighborhood.
Madison police officer Eric Sloan Parker, 26 is charged with violating the civil rights of 58-year-old Sureshbhai Patel, who was staying with his son near Huntsville in February and was walking in the neighborhood when police received a call about a suspicious person walking in the area.
Court officials said prospective jurors filled out questionnaires with personal information before lawyers questioned them in court to select a jury for Parker's trial. The judge dismissed four potential jurors for unstated reasons after a full day of questioning and told 50 remaining panelists to return Wednesday for final jury selection. Opening statements will follow.
Police video has showed an officer struggling to communicate with the man because of language differences. After a few moments, an officer slammed Patel to the ground face-first as another officer stood by.
"He don't speak a lick of English," one of the officers said afterward.
Patel arrived for court early on Tuesday, steadying himself on a walker as he slowly moved down the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse in Huntsville. Patel is expected to testify through a translator but will need the walker to get to the stand, said his lawyer, Hank Sherrod.
"He's not fully recovered and isn't expected to fully recover," said Sherrod. "His improvement is very, very slow right now."
Parker is free on bond. Court documents indicate the defense will present testimony to show Parker's actions were justified and that he didn't mean to harm Patel.
Parker, dressed in civilian clothes rather than a police uniform, also was in court accompanied by his attorney.
Court documents show Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey is expected to testify for prosecutors that Parker's actions violated department procedures.
Muncey publicly apologized to Patel after the incident and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called Patel's treatment a case of "excessive force" in an apologetic letter to the Indian government.
Parker is being fired by the city of Madison, but he appealed and the termination process is on hold until criminal charges are resolved.
Parker also faces a state assault charge, and Patel filed a federal lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount of money for his injuries.
Patel has been joined in Alabama by his wife and now lives with his son while undergoing physical rehabilitation, Sherrod said.
This story has been corrected to show that Patel is 58, not 57.